The Boston Bruins took care of business in Game 6 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final by defeating the Vancouver Canucks 5-2 on home ice. Boston's win means the 2010-2011 season and playoffs come down to one game. Insert your own cliché here.
The fact that the Boston Bruins are in this situation has all of New England swept up in Bruins mania. Ask any Bruins fan and they will tell you that this is the year their favorite team wins the Cup. The fans are completely convinced.
A year ago, this was not the case.
Boston had a 3-0 lead in games over the Philadelphia Flyers and lost the series 4-3. It became known as "The Collapse" in the hockey world, and the Bruins became the laughingstock of the four major sports teams in Boston.
Attitudes among the fans began to change on the day the Bruins drafted Tyler Seguin at the 2010 National Hockey League Entry Draft. He was the second selection overall. People liked what they heard and read about the 18-year-old sensation, and they began to pay attention to the team again.
Seguin took part in the team's rookie development camp at the Bruins' practice facility in Wilmington, Massachusetts a few weeks after being drafted, and the stands were packed with followers wanting to see the newest Bruin. He did not disappoint, as Seguin was clearly the most skilled and talented player on the ice. The rookie would appear in 74 contests, scoring 11 goals with 11 assists for 22 points.
Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli was not done acquiring new players. He traded for star winger Nathan Horton and the reliable Gregory Campbell.
Horton played in 80 games and would score 53 points. He was the club's second-leading goal scorer with 26. He was third on the team in plus/minus with a plus-29.
Campbell would also play in 80 games. He scored 29 points and was a plus-11. He played a prominent role as the team's fourth-line center. He used his skills to effectively shut down the opponent's top lines.
At the time of the NHL trade deadline, Chiarelli brought Tomas Kaberle, Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley into the fold.
Kaberle contributed one goal and eight assists in 24 games and a plus-six.
Kelly put up two goals and three assists in 24 games as a third-line defensive center, while Peverley joined Kelly on the third line and chipped in seven points in 23 games.
The biggest surprise may have come from one of the club's smallest players. Brad Marchand toiled in relative obscurity for one-and-a-half seasons for Boston's American Hockey League team, the Providence Bruins, but the big club's brass knew he could play in the show. They promoted him to the big club in 2009-2010. He played in 20 games and picked up one assist. It was his tenacity, speed and feisty play that made believers out of teammates and fans alike.
In 2010-2011, Marchand progressed from the fourth line to the second line. In 77 games, the 23-year-old winger scored 21 goals and 20 assists for 41 points. He was a plus-25 and spent 51 minutes in the penalty box.
Perhaps Chiarelli's best deal was the one he did not make. The public was clamoring for him to trade goaltender Tim Thomas, who had gone from Vezina Trophy winner to backup within one season, but Chiarelli knew that Thomas required hip surgery and wanted to see how Thomas would respond after recovering from it. All Thomas did was have a record-setting season and become a Vezina Trophy candidate again in 2010-2011.
Another move Bruins nation wanted to see was the firing of head coach Claude Julien. The fans placed most, if not all, of the blame for the collapse at his feet. The organization stood by its man, and although not everyone was convinced Julien was the right man for the job, this coach had the faith and belief of his players, and that is all that really matters. This team believes in his system and how he guides them.
Adding these players and the maturation of others, such as Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Dennis Seidenberg, Adam McQuaid and Johnny Boychuk, along with the veteran presence and leadership of Mark Recchi, Shawn Thornton, Zdeno Chara, Andrew Ference and Patrice Bergeron, as well as keeping Julien, has seen this team go through the ups and downs of an 82-game season—one where at times it struggled to position itself for the playoffs only to pull together and win the NHL's Northeast Division.
In the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the team lost the first two games against Montreal but then came back to win the series in seven games. They avenged last spring's playoff debacle against Philadelphia in convincing fashion by once again taking a 3-0 lead on the Flyers. The Bruins did not let off the gas this year and swept last season's Stanley Cup finalists out of the Eastern Conference semifinals. In the next round they faced a swift and very talented Tampa Bay Lightning squad. The Bruins took a 3-2 lead in that series, saw Tampa Bay tie it and then won Game 7 1-0 to win the Eastern Conference championship.
Now, for the first time in 21 years, the Boston Bruins are in the Stanley Cup Final. After six games and trailing the Vancouver Canucks in the series by 2-0 and 3-2 deficits, the Bruins find themselves headed into Game 7. Boston has made it this far without the services of Nathan Horton, who was concussed by an Aaron Rome check in Game 3.
Boston fans believe this is a team of destiny. The club has faced and defeated adversity all season long. One constant reminder of this comes when looking at the roster, as it lists center Marc Savard as being out for the season with a concussion. They only need to face and defeat adversity one more time.
The Boston Bruins have one more game on their schedule. They are 60 minutes away from the Stanley Cup.